1. Beasts of the Southern Wild– No matter how skilled a filmmaker is, rarely does a movie come along that creates a cinematic world that is seething with a new kind of life, a world or vision that movies haven’t seen before. Director Benh Zeitlin, working with a do-it-yourself low budget commune of filmmaking talent and some extraordinary “non-professional” performers, does that with Beasts of the Southern Wild. The ferocious story of Hushpuppy (the amazingly talented child actress Quvenzhané Wallis) and her small, increasingly hopeless village on the other side of a Louisiana levee is filled with fantastical, visually stunning sequences as well as low budget narrative economy. It is this year’s biggest contradiction, and its biggest success.
2. Amour– Michael Haneke’s second movie in a row to win the Cannes Film Festival’s highest honor (the Palme D’or) is the director’s most empathetic and devastating work to date. As the camera lingers in the apartment of Georges and Anne (legendary French performers Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emanuelle Riva in devastatingly good form), we become privy to the elderly Parisian couple’s tender, haunting final moments together. It is a slow crawl toward death, absent plot twists or Haneke’s sadism. Watching it yields no pleasure, but everything from the incredible performances to the wonderfully precise camera movement lingers long after the movie ends.
The Queen of Versailles Directed by: Lauren Greenfield Written by: N/A Starring: Jaqueline Siegel & David Siegel
Lauren Greenfield’s documentary The Queen of Versailles has images that perfectly define post-2008 recession America. In the wake of the massive layoffs of most of their maid staff, the once impossibly rich Siegel family live in an immaculate 26,000 square foot mansion littered with old food plates, dozens of misplaced toys and covered in dog shit.
Documentaries like this are a product not just of skillful filmmaking and probing insight, but also luck. Greenfield started filming two years before the financial meltdown that nearly crumbles David Siegel’s time share empire, Westgate Estates. Him, his wife Jackie, their eight children (seven of which they made and one who is a niece they took in) and their pets were preparing to move into what would’ve been the biggest home in America.